Voices of “Identity” FLIER
at Nineteenth India Poetry Reading
Sunayana Kachroo, South Asia Poets Group
South Asia is a region of diversity with a peculiar synthetic cultural unity. Rich in history, languages, literature and philosophy, the region has explored the signature of humanity in man through religion, art, monuments, food, music, dance and human conduct. So, what is the identity of a person belonging to South Asia living far away from the native land? Thirty poets of the South Asian origin explored “Identity” in the Nineteenth India Poetry Reading session hosted by the South Asia Institute and the Department of South Asian Studies of Harvard University.
It was a Spring Sunday, the Mother’s Day 2015, May 10. The meeting began with the recalling of the tragic events in Nepal where thousands perished through the massive earthquake on the Himalayas. The young land on the foot hills of the great mountain range is still forming and the earthquake was a reminder that the earth is still moving underneath. Mr. Janmejay Shishupal read a specially composed poem. Dr Shiva Gautam from Medical school narrated the events from Nepal. Ms. Meena Hewett of SAI provided information about how people can help to a Harvard Research Fund. All joined in a one minute silence tribute to the deceased.
The poetry event started with a narration of motherhood by a grandmother Mrs. Nila Shah. Women maintain a hierarchy of roles in nurturing life. Relationship is the continuity in life. She was followed with a spirited presentation by Ruth Hill, the long-time oral historian and library staff at Harvard. Ruth and her late husband Dr. Hugh Hill “Brother Blue” were fixtures in India Poetry event until Brother Blue passed away in 2009. Now alone, Ruth explored her beginning from the colored people’s church in Pittsfield, Ma, through graduate school and employment at Harvard. Hers was a self-made journey with the assumption of new identities as time travelled. It was a lecture of warmth, affection and relationship. It set the tone for the meeting.
The poems were divided into three groups on the basis of their contents. The groups began with the cosmic connections exploring origins, followed to terrestrial functionality of relationship and experiences and finally to individual perception of own personal characteristics. The poems were read in sequence. The first reader was Mr. Jaspal Singh, a Punjabi poet with deep identification to his nativity. His poem “Self” explained the Vedic teachings. All objects, phenomena and formations are transitory and time-based. All identities are constructed eventually to disappear into non-being, in the play of being and non being! He was followed by Mr. Manoj Panda, an Oriya poet, who traveled from Maryland to join the event. “Beyond Tranquility” traced one’s identity to the primordial origin, which leads to cessation of all contentions and culminates in peace and bliss within and beyond.
Gujarati poet Dr Pramod Thaker “Krishnaditya” followed with “I”, an interpretation of individual identity. “I am not so rough, I am not so soft. Whatever I have saved, I offer you with my soul!” Mr. Subhash Sehgal, a passionate Urdu poet read the poem “Panchhi”. Poet believes that everyone’s identity is God himself because it is God that creates, protects and destroys everybody. God is omnipotent! Then we had Dr. Madhukar Shah with a beautiful rendering “Shadow”. Our external manifestation is indeed the shadow of our inner self. We do get into perceptual confusion. Hindi poet Mr. Rajesh Tyagi explored further on the theosophical aspects of identity that could include our ancestry and the genetic makeup.
Ms. Jamunabai Prakash opened the second segment with her English poem “Love’s Labor Won.” Following the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa in his epic Kumarasambhavam, she argued that love is a process of creativity. It is a struggle though extremely natural. She was followed by the Bengali poet Ms. Maya De with her poem “My Identity”. A woman is looking for respect from the ancient times. Times change, civilization evolves, everything remains as before! The next was the Hindi poet Mr Sanjeev Tripathi. He explored a dream that the identity for a mythical boy could have to grow up to be a good man. He said the goodness in man is an imaginary quantity, one explores goodness through experience.
The observer in the poet Dr. R. Balachandra gave us the English poem “Turkeys in My Yard.” How does a man distinguish himself from a turkey? Can he? Are they not same in the cosmic world? Poet Ms. Paromita De followed with another sweet poem how technology has helped new identities by bringing people closer though located far away. “"Transcending the Earth's Ends" explored the innovative use of technology in the time of need. While distress strikes, technology becomes a new identity. Dr Shiva Gautam came next with his Nepali poem “Anamel.” A tragic tune in an instrument brings down the tears in the listener. Identity of someone’s creativity causes pain in another! Dr. Bijoy Misra gave an analysis of sorrow in an Oriya poem “Identity of Sorrow”. Sorrow is hidden is human egotism and aggression. Sorrow smiles with all our bravado. Sorrow is our teacher, it is the cleanser.
Then followed by a Punjabi poem “Who Am I” by Mr. Amandeep Singh. The poet wonders if he is a stanza of a poem or ardent etching on the sword, but then he thinks perhaps he is not what he is. He realizes in the end that he is same as his beloved! The Gujarati poet Mr. Chandrakant Shah recited a poem ““Who am I” from his published book “Blue Jeans.” The poet confronts the Chemist (Creator) to not tamper and experiment with his genes. Let them be so that he can live this life as its meant to be.
The eminent Bangladeshi poet Dr. Sajed Kamal opened the third segment reciting a poem in English “Coming Home, America”. Written more than thirty years ago, the poem narrated the struggles of an immigrant in the melting pot of the American mosaic. “There are human beings who still love life and this earth, and they still keep on singing!” Alok De read his Bengali poem “Identity” .He observed that the identity is a constantly changing concept, with different meanings in time and space. Our nationalities might change with our passports but does our identity really change? Neena Wahi recited her Hindi poem "Lost identity," a stark portrayal of the journey of the identity loss that many people experience through the naturalization process in the USA. The attire changes, the language corrupts, the skin color reveals the true identity!
Sunayana Kachroo after reading some verses to honor the mothers recited her Hindi poem “I finally learnt”, a satirical take on the identity crisis one might face due to the over consumption of the Social media, loss of parental guidance/support and values owing to the nuclear family structure. Rupendra Guha- Majumdar, a visiting Fulbright Faculty from India, read a very poignant and soul stirring English poem titled "Boys will be Boys". It pointed to the recent shooting down of schoolboys (in Pakistan) resulting from a confused notion of political identity. Manoj Mishra read his Hindi poem “Kya Likhoon” describing the brutalities that the people in the Tribals areas endure in the on-going conflict with the army and how the insensitivity of the successive governments have only resulted in deepening their trauma and suffering.
Punjabi poet Preetpal Singh through his poem “It was fun” transported everyone to their fun filled childhood days, where happiness was not complicated and even insignificant and senseless actions resulted into unlimited entertainment. Achyut Adhikary , a Nepali poet, Pallika Kanani concluded the program with a thought-provoking Gujarati poem “Code Switch” , an ironic take on the changing structures of the spoken language because of the globalization. The mixing of the phrases from different languages to form a sentence and yet making sense in this chaotic new form of verbal communication. What is the identity?
The event was conducted by Dr. Bijoy Misra of Harvard University. It concluded with the vote of thanks by Mr. Chandrakant Shah. Everyone was invited to a reception hosted by the South Asia Institute. The afternoon ended with warmth, joy and laughter. There was a fundraising for the Harvard-Nepal project. SAi distributed complimentary Harvard-Nepal Tshirts.
South Asian Poets of New England (SAPNE) , the group that organizes the event, meets every quarter. It has a website All writers are requested to contact Dr Bijoy Misra at or Mr Chandraknat Shah at to participate in the SAPNE poetry reading events.